Yesterday's Wine

Album: Yesterday's Wine (1971)
  • Some wines get better with age, but others simply lose their flavor.

    In this song, Nelson is visited by either an old friend, or his older self (a ghost, perhaps), who asks to hear about his travels. The spectral interpretation is trippy stuff, but that's the theme of the album, which is about a man who watches his own funeral and looks back on his life. In this song, he's already far along on his journey, aging like yesterday's wine.
  • Yesterday's Wine was the first of four concept albums Willie Nelson made. He wrote the songs at the Happy Valley Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas, where he lived after his house in Nashville burned down. Along with his family, band members and associates would often drop by. It became a very communal atmosphere, with plenty of mind-altering creative enhancements. In this environment, he thought in philosophical terms, which were expressed on the album.

    Moving to Texas also got him away from the musical conventions of Nashville, and his sound reflected this newfound freedom. The songs were stripped-down, with understated vocals and just basic instrumentation. It's a sound that endured, but at the time, didn't sell: the single stalled at #62 on the Country chart, and the album didn't place. Nelson's record company, RCA, claimed they couldn't promote a bare-bones, existentialist country album, and soon parted with Nelson, who signed with Atlantic and became one of the best-selling artists on the label.
  • Merle Haggard and George Jones recorded this song as a duet in 1982. Their version went to #1 on the Country chart and helped make the song a standard of the genre.
  • In 2009, George Jones recorded a new version of this song with Jamey Johnson and the southern rock group Blackberry Smoke. "It was intimidating, to say the least, as he was the world's greatest country singer," Blackberry Smoke lead singer Charlie Starr said in his Songfacts interview. "But he was very gracious and a jolly fellow. We got the work done quickly. It all happened really quickly. I wish that it had lasted longer, actually, but it was just one afternoon and then he finished it and said goodbye."

    At Jones' final concert at the Ryman Auditorium (June 14, 2009), Starr joined him onstage to perform this song.

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